RIDGELAND – A day after getting their diplomas, Nettleton’s six seniors got a graduation present from their underclassmen Saturday … a state championship.
– Jesse Patterson, a junior right fielder, made two crucial defensive plays, including a diving catch in the seventh inning of Game 3 – a 3A championship-clinching 7-4 victory against Clarkdale at Freedom Ridge Park.
“I’ve never run so hard in my life,” said Patterson, who made the grab in right center field. “I’m very slow.”
Added Nettleton coach Chris Kidd, “If they’d had a crew from SportsCenter here we’d watching that one tonight on TV.”
– Michele Hester, a junior pitcher, pitched back-to-back games – 13 innings in the heat – and 23 total in the three-game series. She pitched a one-hitter in Game 2, an 11-1 win by the Tigers.
“I knew if we were going to win state I was going to have to pitch two,” Hester said.
– Makenzie Hawkins, a sophomore second baseman, belted a solo home run in the sixth inning of Game 3 for what turned out to be the deciding run.
“I knew we needed a run; I was just trying to get a base hit,” Hawkins said.
Nettleton’s seniors – Holly Schlicht, Harmony Hood, Heather Noe, Haydden Payne, Sydney Clayton, Katie Leach – left after Friday’s disappointing 9-8, 10-inning loss in Game 1 and traveled three hours home for graduation ceremonies. They returned to Ridgeland at 1 a.m. Saturday.
“I’ve never had a group like this; they never give up,” Kidd said, praising his three-time state champion seniors, who won the 2009 fastpitch and slowpitch crowns.
A pair of seniors – Clayton and Schlicht – gave the Lady Tigers (28-3) a shot at Game 3 with their offensive efforts in the second game.
Clayton ripped a grand slam home run in the first inning to help give the Lady Tigers a 5-0 lead while Schlicht belted a three-run triple in the fourth to pad their lead.
“That was my only home run this year,” Clayton said. “I was so excited. It felt good when I hit it, but I didn’t know if it was going out.”
Clarkdale (25-9) starting pitcher in Game 3, Erin Adcock, silenced the Lady Tigers’ bats until the fourth when Patterson smacked a two-run single to left to give her club a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs answered in a big way when Sarah Beckman launched a grand slam homer off a tiring Hester in the bottom of the fourth. Hester gave up three straight singles to load the bases.
Payne and Hester tied the game at 4-4 in the fifth on a double by Payne and a single by Hester.
The Tigers nailed down the win and the championship on Hawkins’ homer in the sixth and two more runs in the seventh.
Petterson’s other defensive gem involved three players in the first inning of Game 3. She ran down a foul flyball in right and made the catch. She then hit her first baseman, Payne, with the cutoff throw. Payne turned and fired a stike to Noe, the catcher, who tagged a sliding Bulldog for the innings’ final out.
“Jesse could have let that ball drop and we would have all said, ‘Good hustle,’ ” Kidd said. “Plays like that change games.”
And win championships.
Gene Phelp/NEMS Daily Journal